In lieu of a big mushy Valentine's celebration this year, I thought I might muse a bit about while Valentine's day isn't really necessary for me.
When I was growing up in that small Southern town, for the longest time, I thought I was the only gay person in the whole world. With no books, or internet or Will and Grace, there was no way to know that what I was feeling was shared by others, so on top of the shame and fear that I was feeling, there wasn't even the possibility of finding someone to love.
In high school though, I found out a few things that were encouraging, like the fact that there were other gay people in the world and that sex with them was good. But the idea that gay people were entitled to love was still a pipe dream. What I learned in the 1970's was that being gay was about sexual freedom and exploration, not about commitment and intimacy. Not very many people talked about making "commitments" and gay marriage wasn't even on the radar.
My 20's and 30's were about trying at failing at relationships. I realized that I was not mature enough, nor ready for real love in those attempts, but as time passed, I became less optimistic that the right person would come along.
And then, Brad came along.
Just as I was about to give up (at least for a while) on Match.com and blind dates from friends, a whole new bunch of possibilities entered my life by showing up at my door with flowers.
Forty year old at the time, and nursing scars from my previous long-term relationship that ended badly, I had just about decided that either I was too jaded at this point or that gay men in urban environments were too cynical for a serious relationship.
Little did I realize that a couple of things were about to happen.
First, I would meet someone who would completely disarm me with his sincerity and his gentle, sweet nature.
And second, I would enter into a relationship for the first time in my life in a mature and thoughtful way.
Yes, I was overwhelmed with infatuation. You know, when you are swept off your feet, you spend less time parked and more time with engines racing, and become consumed with forever after. Reason takes a back seat to passion. I was always good at that part.
Maybe because this was on the heels of the last failure, or maybe because I had met someone who was mature beyond his years, but as much as we felt drawn to each other, we took our time and believe it or not, actually talked about the process as it was happening.
For the first time, at least for me, building a relationship together became an intentional process. We talked and laughed and played and talk some more.
There was no denying the instant connection that we felt with each other. A knowing that transcended geographical differences, the age difference, and even religious traditions. It was different from what we each had experienced in the past and I knew there was something special here.
Experience has taught me however, that love is not infatuation, or an unspoken connection. Love, in my book, is something that grows over time with cultivation, like a beautiful bonzai garden. Great relationships don't just happen, as I naively thought from my inexperienced life, they take work.
Brad was willing to do the work. And that was an incredibly powerful realization, understanding that he is willing to work hard to be with me. He understands commitment means that through thick and thin, we are there for each other, patiently waiting for the time that it is our turn to draw strength from the relationship. His commitment to me makes me more committed to him.
Beside his work ethic however, I'm most amazed by Brad's basic goodness. Over the past six years, I've watched him go beyond expectations to be kind. This is true kindness, not the type that's only for recognition or out of obligation. I respect him for his commitment to honestly and charity. He does this at work, with family, and most amazingly, with me. It's the first time in my life that someone surprises me with kindness and I'm speechless when it happens. He doesn't even know really how much those little acts touch me. It's just who he is.
I never imagined until these last six years, that I could really be with one person for the rest of my life.
Never has a relationship felt so real and so honest. I have been more of myself with Brad than I've ever been with anyone because he's earned my trust.
I don't need a Valentine to know that I am loved this year.
My Valentine is the way that he looks at me when we talk, the way he listens to me when I complain, and the way he reaches for my hand just because.